Nationwide uprising against racist police violence
Up to 50 million jobless and 100,000 people dead – those are the backdrops to what has become a national uprising against police violence targeting Black people in America.
The recent murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has triggered incredible developments that have never been seen in American history. The mass demonstrations coast to coast are certainly more dramatic than anything in the more than fifty years since the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The uprising comes just days after deaths from the coronavirus pandemic passed the grim six-digit mark and the number of unemployed reached heights last recorded in the depth of the Great Depression – all the result of Donald Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic response.
This weekend, we saw massive peaceful protests in which huge multiracial crowds of youth gathered in city after city from coast to coast demanding justice for George Floyd and, more broadly, demanding an end to the structural racism that has plagued this country for 400 years.
Donald Trump, the provocateur in chief, meanwhile, is trying to take advantage of the violence to target battleground states key to the November elections where leading progressive activists have risen to elected office – starting in Minnesota. Keith Ellison is the attorney general and will be leading the prosecution of George Floyd’s murderer. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have progressive mayors. The state’s lieutenant governor is a Native American woman, and the governor is a progressive Democrat.
Trump attempted to blame them – along with other governors and mayors nationwide – for violent clashes that were often the result of police provocations. “It took the National Guard,” Trump tweeted, “to do what the radical Democrats couldn’t.”
In addition to lobbing vicious insults at progressive elected officials during this crisis, he has engaged in his usual pouring of gasoline on the flames in order to feed the racist elements of his base and boost his re-election chances.
Last week, he equated all protesters to criminals and revived segregationist slogans to demand they be gunned down in the street. Over the weekend, he declared that being anti-fascist is comparable to being a terrorist. And today, he muses about sending in the military and tells governors they must “dominate” anyone who dares to protest.
He threatens to set up confrontations by bringing his “MAGA” supporters out to clash with demonstrators, and he is laying the groundwork to do whatever necessary to hold onto his power. No one would be shocked by anything he does in the coming days and weeks, up to and including declaration of martial law.
Unfortunately, he’s being helped along by some in the streets who are using the protests as cover. Though they are by far a tiny minority, the destructive actions of a small percentage have been used by the right-wing to detract from the focus of an unprecedented peaceful mass movement.
Among those endangering the movement are anarchists. In one section of Chicago this weekend, fifteen police cars were vandalised with the kind of equipment no normal person brings to a demonstration. As evidenced by the spray-painting of symbols right out of the neo-Nazi Skinhead movement on the walls of trashed buildings, it is also clear that white supremacist provocateurs are operating under the cloak of these demonstrations.
One positive thing that could make a difference compared to past uprisings like this one is that longtime activists against police violence have risen to elected office in various cities and towns across the country. Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, for example, has been clear that she will do everything to protect the right of peaceful protest but that she will not tolerate gangs rolling into shopping centres and destroying property.
In Washington, D.C., yesterday the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest organisation of workers, was burned. This was a sad and unfortunate development, especially since the labour movement has been trying so hard in recent years to develop the unity that is needed among working people of every race and background.
After the attack on that building, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, said that “racism plays an insidious role in the daily lives of people of colour. Racism is a labour issue because it is a workplace issue. It is a community issue and unions are the community. We must and will continue to fight for reforms in policing and to address issues of social and economic inequality.”
It is appropriate to focus on the issue of unity, too, because it is 1st June, the beginning of Pride Month. Pride began as a struggle against police violence during the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969. LGBTQ people were also fair game for the guns of out of control police throughout the history of this country, and it took a revolt started by Black transgender women to kick off the movement that has won many victories over the past fifty years. Pride Month this year is a good opportunity to unite the struggles of all the communities that have been victimised by the armed power of the state.
So the watchword is unity. The peaceful mass demonstrations must continue. The violent detractors from the core message must be isolated. The joblessness and hunger stalking America now during the pandemic must be alleviated with additional massive aid to the people in terms of health care, extended unemployment benefits, and direct payments. And it all has to be done safely. In the pursuit of justice, we cannot afford additional mass waves of infection during this pandemic.
The key to all of this is the elections in November. Police intimidation and manipulation of people’s fears about how to be safe when going out have become tactics for voter suppression. The drive for equality and justice that these demonstrations express must break through those efforts to instill terror.
The way to make a meaningful start to winning justice in this country is to remove the criminal, white supremacist, and fascist element from the White House.